Thursday, April 29, 2004

Metra. The way to really...wait around for your Ticket-By-Internet

I recently joined the ranks of suburban rail commuters here in Chicago, for better or worse. I actually have an easy time of it, needing only ~25 minutes of rail time to get from home to work (a little bit of walking on either end is fine as long as temperatures are what they are now; ask me again in January.) The train has spaciou seats, smooth rails (by US standards), and acceptable schedules. So far, so good.

However, I definitely don't understand Metra's Ticket-by-Internet policy. It's basically no different than signing up for bank draft withdrawal authorization with a major utility or mortgage lender. Mail you a voided check, wait several days for a PIN, and then you mail me my purchases? Puh-leeze. I live in a slap-the-skinner-box-paddle-for-reward-now world. The whole point of net-enabling fulfillment is to hire the customer wherever possible, not create ancilliary processes for your back office. I can't understand why they don't allow you to purchase and print your own 'boarding pass,' a la United or American. I'm sure their key concern with this approach would be fakery/forgery. Me? I figure you print a validating barcode on the pass and equip conductors with the simplest Symbol handheld scanner available for validation. Some sort of validation algorithm that updates the set of valid barcodes from time to time.

This seems like a win-win:

-increased customer convenience
-reduced railroad consumables expense
-reduced back office and customer service overhead
-little to no conductor retraining required with sustained ROI outpacing the cost of new handheld equipment

...or so I think. Yes, they sell single ride, 10-ride, and monthly passes, but I think there are ways to validate all three types of self-print tickets using barcodes.

Another angle: "print" the boarding pass as a barcode that can be sent as a picture message to your mobile phone. This was a general fulfillment idea colleagues of mine dreamt up at our former employer. Sure could apply here, too.



Post a Comment

<< Home